The Obama administration has announced it is canceling a planned joint military exercise with Thailand and suspending $3.5 million in military aid in the wake of a military coup in the southeast Asian nation.
The State Department announced the aid suspension on Friday, with spokeswoman Marie Harf stating that an additional $7 million in direct US assistance to the longtime treaty ally is under review. Harf said the suspended aid would have paid for weapons and military training for Thai officers.
While denying it was carrying out a coup d’état, Thailand’s military commanders seized power last week, declaring martial law, detaining political leaders and suspending the nation’s constitution. It was the second time in the last decade that the nation’s military seized control. After it did so in 2006, Washington responded by suspending aid for a year and a half.
The Obama administration has urged the military junta, led by Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, to work towards an early return to democracy and to hold free and fair elections as soon as possible.
But in the streets of Bangkok, oppression was in the air as Thai troops forcefully dispersed demonstrators who gathered to protest the coup on Friday. Gen. Prayuth, emboldened by an endorsement of the coup by 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is by far the most revered figure in the nation of 67 million inhabitants, warned Thais against further protest.
“I’m not here to argue with anyone,” the general said on Friday. “Do not criticize, do not create new problems. It’s no use.”
In a thinly-veiled reference to past state violence targeting protesters, Prayuth added: “Right now there are people coming out to protest. So do you want to go back to the old days? I’m asking the people in the country, if you want it that way, then I will have to enforce the law.”
The coup leader’s warning came as deposed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she had been released from military detention after being held for three days at an undisclosed location.
Prayuth attempted to justify the military takeover by citing intermittent violence that began last November and has claimed at least 28 lives. More than 800 people have also been injured. Grenade attacks, gun battles and drive-by shootings have sporadically claimed victims as pro and anti-government forces have clashed over the past six months.
Thailand is largely divided between a Bangkok-based urban elite and a less wealth, more rural majority centered in the north.